From Hither . . .
The school voucher movement may well be collapsing. Century Foundation official Greg Anrig, writing in the January 27 Christian Century, observed that:
- The Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Cleveland, Ohio, voucher programs have shown no advance over local public schools.
- The idea that the existence of voucher schools would lead to improvement in public schools has not worked.
- Researchers at the University of Illinois and Stanford University have found that after adjusting for the socioeconomic backgrounds of students, Catholic and conservative Christian schools are no better than public schools.
I would add that millions of voters in twenty-five statewide referenda from coast to coast have rejected vouchers or their variants by an average margin of 2 to 1. And this is despite the fact that voucher promoters invariably spend more on referendum campaigns than voucher opponents. Still, Senator Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.) urged the Senate in January to approve federal funding for vouchers.
Two-thirds of Americans think religion is losing influence in U.S. life, according to a December Gallup poll, with three-quarters of regular churchgoers agreeing. Gallup also found that 53 percent, an all-time low, believe that religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems.”
A South Carolina court has temporarily blocked the state from issuing “I Believe” license plates featuring a cross and a stained-glass window, while an Arizona court has approved allowing “Choose Life” plates.
Louisiana’s state school board in January removed from its science education policy this sentence: “Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.” The policy still says that materials in science classes “shall not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.” A state law passed in June 2008 aimed at promoting questioning of evolution. The Oklahoma legislature is considering a similar bill.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher Janet E. Rosenbaum, writing in the January issue of Pediatrics, concluded that teenagers who have taken a sexual abstinence pledge are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who didn’t take a pledge and are significantly less likely to use contraception. Abstinence pledging is a gimmick concocted by the Religious Right that, at the end of the day, probably increases the numbers of unintended pregnancies.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court in Boston in January charging that U.S. Catholic Church leaders are imposing their religious beliefs on victims of human trafficking by prohibiting federal funds to be used for emergency contraception, condoms, or abortions.
Marion County, Tennessee, schools will offer a Bible course beginning in September designed by the secretive National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. A scholar from Southern Methodist University in Dallas has found that the curriculum is sectarian and not suitable for public school use.
Fountain Lake High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has constructed a special meeting room for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an evangelical group dedicated to proselytizing in public schools.
As a parting gift to the nation, President George W. Bush in December presented a Presidential Citizen Medal to Chuck Colson, the convicted Watergate felon who reinvented himself as a Religious Right theocrat. In the January Christianity Today, Colson wrote that “the Christian legislator’s job is to defend Biblical truth prudentially mediated in the public process. We cannot establish one standard for our personal beliefs and another for our public position. Mario Cuomo famously tried to justify that and gave sophistry a bad name.” What Colson seems to be saying is that the 90 percent of members of Congress who identify themselves as Christians should put creeds above the Constitution and public policy. Maybe Colson should go back and read John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to the southern ministers on this matter.
. . . And Yon
Spain: A court in Valladolid has ordered crucifixes removed from a public school because their display is incompatible with Spain’s accelerating trend toward secularity. Although Catholicism was established under Franco’s dictatorship, Justice Ministry Religious Affairs Director José María Contreras Mazario declared recently that “Spain changed very, very quickly [after Franco’s death in 1975]. Spain isn’t Catholic theoretically, culturally or politically.” In Madrid a state prosecutor ordered removal of a lawyer’s crèche display as a violation of the 1978 constitution’s church-state separation provision.
Australia: Humanists will now offer ethics classes on school time in Victoria public schools in competition with religion classes.
Poland: A nine-meter-high “secular “[sic] cross” will be erected in Pilsudski Place in Warsaw, a city whose mayor has links to Opus Dei.
United Kingdom: The Runnymede Trust declared in December that state-funded faith-based schools should lose their public funding if they continue class discrimination, overt or covert, in admissions.
Pakistan: Taliban fundamentalists in the country’s Swat Valley have banned girls from school. Mullah Shah Doran said that educating girls is “un-Islamic.”
Bolivia: Catholic Church officials are openly siding with wealthy business and land interests against President Evo Morales, the only indigenous head of state in Latin America. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America and has the largest indigenous population. Rural Development Minister Carlos Romero says that the government’s goal is formal separation of church and state.